reviews\ Dec 21, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is an updated remake of EA’s original Harry Potter game on last generation systems.  The game, of course, follows closely the events of the book and movie of the same name.  For those not “in-the-know” (all three of you) this means that the game covers Harry and friends’ first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and their quest to unravel the secrets of the Sorcerer’s Stone, a mythical stone with incredible power.

The game borrows heavily from the Zelda franchise, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s all here, from the automatic jumps, to a very “Z” targeting like lock on system, to assigning various spells and items to the face buttons for easy access and use.  It’s a great setup that frees the player to be able to concentrate on the action and quest at hand, rather than fumbling through clumsy controls and menus.  The gameplay is pretty straightforward adventuring, with the player exploring the many environments of Hogwarts, battling against mythical creatures, evil foes, and uncovering the mystery surrounding the Sorcerer’s Stone and “He Who Must Not Be Named”.  It has a very light “collecting” aspect to it that is mercifully kept to a minimum, consisting mainly of “Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans” which acts as the currency for Fred and George Weasley’s “shop” and Wizard Cards, featuring famous wizards and witches.  A lot of games of this type devolve into monotonous fetch quests, and this game takes great care in never making the gamer feel bogged down.  It keeps the game fresh and exciting, much like the books and movies.

The developers of the game have chosen to give the game an almost “cartoony” look that is appropriately whimsical and fun.  Despite this, the game still looks reasonably sharp and exhibits some nice lighting and particle effects.  The characters are all immediately recognizable, bearing a striking resemblance to their movie counterparts.  The environments are also well-done, oozing with character and ambiance.  Of special note is the grand staircase, which is covered, as it should be, with pictures upon pictures, all depicting various witches and wizards of note.  Sadly the pictures are not “alive” as they are in the movies and books, but the detail given to each individual portrait is a nice touch.  The graphics really go a long way in immersing the player in JK Rowling’s world of magic and what it must feel like to run or fly broomstick-style freely through a magical castle.  The sound is yet another aspect that is handled with care.  While the voices are not those of the actors, they sound very much alike and deliver their lines with appropriate emotion and conviction.  Sometimes its problematic in situations such as these where voice actors have to fill in for those from a beloved franchise, but it never becomes noticeable or troublesome here, further helping in the gamer’s immersion into this world.  The sound effects and music are also handled well, as everything and every action in the game has an appropriate sound accompanying it.  Spells hiss and cackle at the tip of wands, footfalls echo and plod in the stone hallways of the castle, and creature mumble, growl, and howl, as you’d expect.

About the only problem(s) that really jump out at me is that this has already been done once, in more ways than one.  For those that invested in the earlier version of this game, I’m not at all convinced that the update is worth another purchase.  Yes you’ll get much, much better graphics, but you are playing in effect the same game and definitely the same story.  Also, for those that played last year’s “Chamber of Secrets”, once again you will be in effect playing the same game, with albeit a different story.  When the mini-Bearer saw me playing this game after school he immediately asked me, “Why are you playing that old game?”  It looks and plays virtually identical to that game, obviously using the same engine with a few well-implemented tweaks.  Nonetheless, it is admirable that EA took the time to update the game for current generation consoles.

Ultimately your decision to purchase and or play this game is ultimately going to be predicated on your love of Harry Potter.  It is a solid, well-handled game based on a very beloved franchise.  If you’re a fan of the series and didn’t buy the earlier version of the game, then by all means give it a shot, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.  And if you did play the first version, it is certainly an admirable upgrade, but not a lot has changed outside of the graphics.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8
The gameplay borrows heavily from the Zelda games and it works to great effect here.  The controls are simple and easily mastered, never getting in the way of the gamer’s enjoyment of the game.  The game maintains a great pace, keeping the game always exciting or right on the cusp of something exciting.

Graphics: 8.5 
While not groundbreaking, the graphics are very nice and faithful to the source material.  Textures are sharp and clean, and the lighting effects are done well.  The different spells, each colored differently than the last, bathe the environments in a soft, eerie glow, which is impressive.

Sound: 8.5
The sound is everything you’d expect from this world.  There are a nice variety of sound effects for the various actions and creatures, and the voice actors do a stellar job of delivering their lines.

Difficulty: Medium
There is a nice balance of difficulty within the game.  For children or less experienced gamers the game never proves too daunting and allows for the progression of the story without frustration.  For more experienced gamers it may be a bit on the easy side, but there is the matter of collecting all of the wizard cards if you are looking for a bit more challenge.

Concept: 7.0 
The story and the world of Harry Potter is perfectly captured here, with the gamer being capable of doing virtually everything that Harry can do.  But as I said earlier, they have done this game before and not a lot has changed game wise.

Overall: 8.0
Overall a very solid, fun game that does justice to the license, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.  It’s a great way for those that want a more proactive way to experience the story and movie.


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